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  • Najah Amatullah

"adVice City," Philadelphia


Have you ever had your own love explained to you, face to face?

Has your teenager ever sat you down and said, "Mom, Dad, I can tell how much you love me because..." and given you an accurate, heartfelt list of reasons? Or has your sister ever looked you in the eyes, held your hand and explained how much the cookies and late night phone calls mean to her? It's not that she feels gratitude for the gifts you give, but that she sees how they are not always easy to give but you do it anyway?

Until I thought about it just now, I had never considered that very unique perspective on love. Not that "I love you," which is huge and important and difficult, but that "you love me," which, whether or not we believe it, carries a similar weight.

This has been a rough week in the O. It's been a rough few weeks for those of who are studying for finals and giving and taking standardized tests. It's been crazy for teachers getting laid off and wondering how or if they will find new jobs.

And artists are preparing for outdoor gigs because the weather is warm. If you're Jabee and Jeff Mims and Allie Lauren and probably a dozen other artists, you played two or three shows in three or four days. And it was beautiful, like being on tour or something. Many are simultaneously putting out new projects (#BlackFuture) while the Arts Festival gets rained out and we wear shorts in public for maybe the first time this season at Norman Music Festival.

Somehow I managed to keep it together through all of that. I was selective about which shows I attended and I got myself some rest, so I could be my best for the main events - L.T.Z. on the main stage in Norman and Jabee's NMF After Party.

There were a couple of rough spots at work, a couple more while trying to make my side hustles pay me. But Saturday night, April 23, I felt fulfilled like I hadn't in a while. For the last five years, NMF has been one of those things.

I don't remember the first time Jabee told me "I love you" before I walked away, but it touched me. Even now, at least a year or two later, the words come often but unexpectedly and my heart grows a size every time.

That Saturday night, Beetyman said it too, while giving me one of those "good hugs" that he's famous for.

Even Frank Black kissed my cheek, and said, "Love you, sis."

Maybe they knew I would need it soon, to hold onto, like the last few dollars before payday, or getting your pink slip.

The week in between "Festival Week" and "Doomed Tuesday" May 3rd, I tested all my tenth graders, had a heart to heart with an ex, hosted a youth poetry workshop, hung out with my out-of-town boss, threw a kickback for artists only at my house on a school night til 3 am, drove to Tulsa and back twice, and had a heart to heart with two more exes.

Yep, that was 3 exes total.

Disclaimer on that topic: when I'm talking about love, none of the guys that I've mentioned in this post (prior to the exes) are or ever have been lovers. They have always just been acquaintances or friends.

As a girl who has only had short relationships, guys either A) don't ever tell you they love you, or B) don't mean it for very long afterward (if they ever did).

"Doomed Tuesday" was a bad day from its start. I woke up as my first class was beginning. I was tired, flustered, and embarrassed. Then I spent my planning period arguing via text message with a friend and an ex about a project we were working on. I came home and hammered out an assignment for my boss that was 3 days overdue. Then I went to my next bit of business.

I don't have blood siblings. But I feel like I've heard enough stories and watched enough movies to know that sometimes there is no avoiding a fight.

It was just that perfect storm kind of day. I picked a huge fight with Tony because I was having a bad day, a bad week, a bad life. He told me this, when the fight was dying down, and I heard him but could not internalize his words because I was exhausted, freezing, seething, and a butthole.

I should have been screaming at my ex. He was the one I was really angry at. I was mildly annoyed by Tony just like I'd imagine everyone gets with their younger sibling. "Mildly annoyed" does not warrant the way I screamed.

But they say we treat worst the ones we love most.

There are so many parts of our conversation and argument that I don't remember. It was a couple of hours long. One minute we were screaming, the next minute he was trying to rationally explain why I should back down, apologize, walk away. But I'm nothing if not stubborn. He was the one being rational. The one being yelled at. The one being loved.

He told me he knew I was struggling with something, that I walked in the room with it.

I told him that I had to say how I felt and if he didn't want to be friends with me anymore afterward, then that was his prerogative.

I promise, I thought I was right at the time. Or at least right enough to win. Because that's what teachers and big sisters and brainiacs do: win arguments.

Listening to understand when Tony talks is sometimes a daunting task. He has a lot of words and a lot of wisdom and a lot of a jokes. So, I have no earthly clue how exactly we arrived at this point in the conversation. But I remember that he tried to appeal to my reason and my heart from every angle he could think of, and there were several.

He said something like, "you have something against me, but you also love me a lot."

"I can't even really wrap my head around how you love me. It's a thing I don't understand."

"I've wondered if anything would ever make us stop being friends. I could only think of one thing and this wasn't it."

So I was standing there, in "adVice City", Philadelphia while my "little brother" told me all about myself.

About how much I loved him.

About how much I was carrying that I ought to let go of.

And I couldn't hear it.

He predicted that too. At least three times in that conversation, he said, "this will hit you later. "

And he was so right.

It's hard to be wrong. Harder still to be better seen by someone you've mistreated. Hardest yet to figure out how to live with the knowledge that you don't really deserve to be forgiven for pushing and pushing and pushing, for projecting and hurting and judging.

But Tony knows I love him.

And he has taught me the hardest lesson I've learned in five years, since the first time hip hop saved my life.

"You can never unring a bell."

It hurts right now not a fraction less than it did when Tony finally walked away from me hurting and angry and worn down.

If me loving people means consistently wounding them deeply, then I probably ought to just stop here.

I'd already made this decision about intimate love and given up on having it inside 10 years, if ever. But I truly did not believe I would sink so low as to so deeply wound my friends. When they weren't so very wrong. While they tried to talk me down.

Wednesday, I took the day off to cry and sleep and mope. I had decided that after we released Black Future, and I performed the poem at a few shows, I would fall completely off the map. I wouldn't speak unless spoken to, or give any unsolicited opinions. I would not tweet or comment on anyone's Instagram or Facebook. I would write whatever I thought and felt, until the silence became deafening, until words became sunbeams through storm clouds,/ rare, miraculous,/ necessary. I would do penance with silence for as long as I had to until I learned to value every single sound my voice could make. Until a whisper felt like a shout scraping my throat on its exit.

I would do those things, if I lived past the last day of school.

"Here you go, TeaZee, any time you need some inspiration listen to this cd."

I accidentally watched the video of Lupe Fiasco with Big Krit and Dee-1.

Then I watched "Hip Hop Saved Me."

Then "Beautiful Lasers (2 Ways)."

"Don't admit that your faith is weak

If you feel you don't wanna be alive,

you feel just how I am...

This world is such a fucked up place

My mind, such a fucked up shape

Everything down here sucks

Maybe what's up there is great

We all gotta go one day

I just wanna cut to the chase

I wanna stop these nightmares

I just wanna touch your face...

Don't keep tellin' me to find a reason

Anything to keep me from squeezing

The simplest things like,

'You really like summer, you really like music,

you really like reading.'

Love...

my heart been broke for a while

yours been the one keepin' me alive."

My knees buckled as I cried in my kitchen.

I was mad at my ex, who I would have once called my best friend. But five years ago, when that friend was too busy and life felt just as daunting and impossible and I could not figure out how to keep living, Jabee's and Beety's and Tony's hearts were keeping me alive. Three years ago when I thought I had loved again, and I had a first date at the release of Slow Narrations of L.T.Z., but it crashed and burned, Tony's heart was keeping me alive. Last year, when I was so desperate for love that I was planning to marry a stranger, Tony thought I was wrong but supported me and his heart was keeping me alive.

Now who will?

I don't deserve a replacement for him.

I just hope he doesn't truly convince himself that he was wrong about how much I love him. He was not wrong. He usually isn't.

Back when everything was beautiful and nothing hurt. Thanks for that line and the t-shirt, Jabee.

As if it were enough:

I'm sorry,

I do love you differently than any other person in my "Whole Life",

Guilty, silent, hurting in "adVice City", Philadelphia


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